Tag Archives: Queens restaurants

Pizza pies and pasta cakes


| editorial@queenscourier.com

IMG_4692

At Tufino Pizzeria Napoletana, each pie has its own personal story. One is inspired by chef and owner Stephen Menna’s grandmother’s meatballs, another by his favorite festival as a kid and yet another by his neighbor, who suggested adding raisins to a prosciutto pie.

Naturally leavened dough is gently hand-stretched and falls loosely down the pizzaiolo’s forearms as it twirls. A shallow layer of choice toppings is meticulously applied. Menna places mozzarella crumbles as if setting jewels in a crown.

The addition of fontina to Greek cheese adds a subtle earthiness when coupled with tangy kalamata olives. A sprinkle of oregano with lemon juice added post-oven really makes the pie special. The flavors simply pop. On the San Gennaro, a drizzle of playfully picante honey makes the pie particularly good.

“We have weekly specials including several gluten-free options,” Menna said. “I probably have around 40 different pies in my head right now.”

All of them are browned to bubbling bronze beauty in a Stefano Ferrara wood-fired oven made from volcanic ash of Mt. Vesuvius. The oven was an anniversary gift from Menna’s wife.

Pizzas range from $9 to $16 per 12-inch personal pie. Daily specials also include a few pastas, salads, panini and crostini. Sunday brunch features a pancetta pizza with a fried egg.

Storefront window art identifies the pizzeria as a “frigittoria,” which means they also make fried treats, or “dolci fritti.” These include jumbo arancini, prosciutto croquettes and deep-fried calzones. On weekdays, guests can even indulge in a cappellini cake – angel hair tossed with a blend of cheeses, rolled in breadcrumbs, fried and served with a moat of alfredo sauce.

Desserts include a fresh seasonal fruit tart (the current pignoli tart with basil cream is sublime), a cannoli sampler, the “Tirami Choux” (a cocoa pastry puff with Kahlua mascarpone cream) and Menna’s take on a Nutella pizza.

Menna, who makes his own dough every morning, intends to make pizza as long as he can.

“Detail is everything… and staying true to what I believe in,” he said.

Tufino Pizzeria Napoletana
36-08 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria
718-278-4800
Open at noon daily (closed Mondays)

BY BRADLEY HAWKS

 

MORE DINING

The restaurant Sandy built


| editorial@queenscourier.com

IMG_3217

It is only a spring roll, but I have somehow rapidly devoured three of these crispy golden fingers before realizing I have yet to dunk one into the accompanying chili sauce. The delicate wrapper crackles and gives way to a steaming center of al dente glass noodles, tiny slivers of carrot and sweet lumps of fresh crabmeat. A spring roll this delicious can really heighten your awareness of just how monotonous most other renditions can be. I am already grinning, and this is just the first course.

The quality of food at Bún-ker Vietnamese is beyond surprising. The first syllable is the Vietnamese word for vermicelli (pronounced boon), while the restaurant’s full name is a play on its bunker-like location.

Chef Jimmy Tu said the space was initially a boutique seafood distribution site. Tu previously opened Manhattan’s famed Eleven Madison Park, where he also cooked for two years.

Since he originally intended Bún-ker to be a storage space, he said “the location really didn’t matter.”

He added that cheap rent was why he chose the location.
Sandy saw things a little differently. The storm put the distribution center out of business for almost a month. Facing major damage and with no flood insurance, Tu and his partners — including younger brother Jacky, who is also the sous-chef — decided to close the distribution business and open Bún-ker in its place in January.

With gingham tablecloths, buckets of utensils on each table and a bamboo and straw thatched ceiling, the tiny dining room daily buzzes with locals clustered around tightly packed private and communal tables.


The draw here is simple: excellent Vietnamese cuisine. After leaving the fine dining industry, Tu spent a month and a half studying street food, befriending local establishments throughout Vietnam and

Thailand and studying their recipes and techniques.

“Noodles are a really big street food in Vietnam,” Tu explained, “We also use a Japanese grill with realcharcoal, because out in Vietnam, it’s all charcoal, which definitely adds to the flavor.”

It’s “street food made with a lot of love,” Tu added with a smile.

Take, for instance, the Saigon Special Banh Mi. It is a flaky baguette stuffed with five-spice pâté made in-house as well as steamed pork shoulder ground with cinnamon, sugar and fish sauce. The sandwich also has garlic sausage, and it’s all garnished with pickled vegetables, mayo, cilantro, jalapeno and a ribbon of sriracha hot sauce.

The Pho Ga is an intense chicken noodle soup consisting of smoked shallot broth with bobo chicken. The kitchen develops it over eight hours.

Even simple plates explode with flavors carefully cultivated in the kitchen — tomato garlic fried rice and creamed taro leaves like collard greens with a hint of curry, ginger and garlic.

Drinks are limited to a cooler where customers serve themselves water. You can also order artichoke kefir iced tea or Vietnamese black coffee. Next week, the restaurant plans to introduce several homemade soft drinks including flavors like lime ginger mint, tamarind and chili lychee.

Until then, plan on cooling your palate with a bowl of coconut tapioca pudding whose tender pearls are studded with slivers of young coconut, pineapple, star fruit and palm seeds.

Sounds simple? It is simply delicious.

Bún-ker Vietnamese
46-63 Metropolitan Avenue, Ridgewood
718-386-4282
Tuesdays & Wednesdays 5 – 10 p.m.
Thursdays & Fridays 5 – 11 p.m.
Saturday noon – 11 p.m.
Sunday noon – 10 p.m.

BY BRADLEY HAWKS

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

Tabletop BBQ at Sik Gaek


| editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Bradley Hawks

“Oh, that’s probably too much food,” the server warns in a refreshing moment of honesty. “Most dishes are intended to serve three to four.”

He then reaches under the table for an invisible switch, and flames appear.

The restaurant is Sik Gaek, and the booths are tucked under tin awnings reminiscent of a back alley in a bustling Asian city, the walls plastered with karaoke posters. Next to each table sit enormous plastic red buckets where diners discard shells, bones and shrimp tails. This is Korean barbecue at its very best. It’s a whole different ballgame than the American version.

Soon the waiter returns and begins frying a couple of eggs in a skillet to be set aside as one of many garnishes. Next, a technicolor parade of small plates arrives, none of them ordered by the table. These are customary complimentary dishes often enjoyed as appetizers or used as toppings with the main course. There are bowls of flaming red kimchi—one of pickled mushrooms and vegetables, garlic cloves and jalapenos—and yet another steaming dish of what appears to be an egg soufflé. The Korean rice cakes are a favorite at Sik Gaek. The thin strips of fish cakes glistening with a glowing red sriracha glaze actually resemble long, chewy gnocchi. Lush leaves of bibb lettuce serve as jade wraps for the delicacies to come.

And now, the barbecue begins. Paper thin strips of bulgogi—sesame, soy and garlic marinated short ribs—sizzle and curl as they brown on the grill. A gargantuan, ice cube-studded platter covers the end of the table and brims over with piles of clams, sea snails, prawns, scallops, mussels and even shells full of crab meat, veggies and mozzarella cheese. It’s all slowly grilled on the tabletop.

Bold diners will want to try Sik Gaek’s famous plate, the seafood hot pot—a rice bowl placed over the grill and filled with fresh seafood, including a live octopus, that is slowly steamed over the heat. Skeptics may want to check out the YouTube clip with Anthony Bourdain and David Chang.

Whether you are adventurous or timid, the menu is ideally suited for sharing among friends who can agree on a few dishes. Even the spicy ramen soup is intended to feed a small family. Start off with a few orders and add more as you go along to gradually build a tableside grilled feast.

From steamed fresh lobster to beef short rib stew, monkfish and mackerel to prawns and scallops, each order arrives in heaping platters. Although health codes prevent guests from taking home unconsumed raw meats, don’t waste those untouched gems. Ask nicely, and your server will have the kitchen steam or grill your leftovers and package it to take home.

Sik Gaek
49-11 Roosevelt Ave, Woodside
718-205-4555
Open daily from 3 p.m. to 4 a.m.

-BY BRADLEY HAWKS

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

 

Something fishy at JJ’s Asian Fusion


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

“I like to add a twist, a touch of new, modern ingredients to make regular sushi become more fun,” explains Philip Chen, the executive chef of JJ’s Asian Fusion, as he personally delivers the appetizer to the table. “Sushi of such high quality and flavor doesn’t need any soy sauce.”

Chen went on to detail the “New Style” Sushi Sampler that includes Indonesian-style salmon with blow-torched lemon zest; yellowtail with jalapeno, Dijon, and yuzu zest; marinated and grilled bonito sprinkled with mint, black pepper and Himalayan rock salt; white tuna with deep-fried pearl onion and yuzu miso; and tuna topped with whipped tofu puree, yogurt and a drizzle of lime soy.

The rich and tender slice of yellowtail practically fell apart between my chopsticks. A fish with high oil content, it would be nearly futile to dip it in soy sauce. That would stubbornly bead up and roll off. So it’s brilliant that this piece of sushi is topped with fried jalapeno and spicy mustard to add texture and heat along with citrusy shavings of yuzu rind to cut the richness. Each piece is uniquely delicious and unlike anything being served even remotely nearby.

This cozy restaurant, unassumingly tucked away on 31st Avenue, features an often French culinary approach to a marriage of pan-Asian cuisines. Just beyond a neon blue glowing waterfall in the entry and bamboo-partitioned tables in the dining room, Chen enthusiastically creates an artistic array of dishes that satisfies both sushi purists and fusion enthusiasts.

The dumplings are made in-house. The most popular are the edamame pot stickers, which are $5.50 for a serving of four. The dumplings are stuffed with pureed edamame beans, blanketed in a wasabi cream sauce and drizzled with basil-infused olive oil.

With the shumai ($4.95), six tender meatballs of delicately seasoned minced chicken and crabmeat are wrapped in thin, savory noodles, steamed on a broad bamboo leaf that infuses a hint of sweet earthiness and served with a small bowl of ponzu sauce for dipping.

Try the rock lobster starter. These juicy lumps of sweet lobster meat are lightly tempura battered and fried, tossed in a yuzu mango glaze and dotted with red and black tobiko (flying fish caviar). Magenta and jade micro greens crown the creation.

Along with several basic sushi rolls, a kaleidoscopic array of chef’s special rolls is on the menu.  Tropical roll #2 features shrimp tempura with diced mango and slivers of avocado. They are wrapped in rice and thin soy paper and drizzled with mango and strawberry sauces. The tempura batter and sweet glazes create a decadent harmony in your mouth.

For entrees, consider the tamarind-glazed roast duck over steamed baby bok choy or the miso-glazed salmon with stir-fried vegetables, accompanied by herbed mashed potato spring rolls with an orange glaze.

With at least five days notice, Chen will personally craft an omakase tasting at a fixed price point.

“We have certain things flown express from Japan,”  he explained.

So whether it’s a $50 to $200 private tasting or just an afternoon of dumplings and green tea, JJ’s has something for everyone. Just be sure to end the meal with stacked green tea crepes. Even the sweet ending is flawless.

JJ’s Asian Fusion
37-05 31st Ave, Astoria
718-626-8888
Open daily for lunch and dinner
Closed Mondays

-BY BRADLEY HAWKS

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

Queens restaurants serve up kangaroo, alligator, other exotic meats


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

Looking for something new to try?

Even in New York City, adventurous foodies can get bored. But people looking for a taste of the exotic can find plenty of options in Queens.

In Astoria, the Thirsty Koala serves kangaroo burgers, sliders and steaks.

“The wild game meat is extremely lean, resembling a cross between bison and venison,” Queens Courier dining writer Bradley Hawks said after trying the kangaroo dishes. “The steak is best described as a sweeter filet mignon.”

Kangaroo burger 

Moving from marsupials to reptiles, Max Bratwurst und Bier German Restaurant has rattlesnake and alligator on the menu.

“Believe it or not, the [rattlesnake and alligator bratwursts] are very popular, especially among the young crowd,” said Fiori, a manager at the Astoria restaurant.

He described the rattlesnake as tender and flavorful. The serpent is combined with pork to make the bratwurst because rattlesnakes are expensive and have little meat on them.

The alligator bratwurst tastes like chicken, Fiori said.

The restaurant decided to add exotic meats to the menu as a way of standing out from other area eateries.

They wanted to “make a challenge” for their customers, said Fiori, who sometimes hears diners daring each other to try the alligator or rattlesnake bratwurst.

Alligator is also on the menu at Sugar Freak in Astoria.

Its popcorn alligator dish is made by deep frying the meat and serving it with a spicy, tangy grape jelly sauce.

Slightly less adventurous diners who still want to try something new can head to Alobar Restaurant in Long Island City or one of four Bareburger locations in the borough.

Alobar offers familiar meat, but served in an exotic way.

Its Amish pig tails are exactly what the name implies.

“It was one of those approachable items that people aren’t afraid of trying, especially the way we prepare them,” said executive chef Michael Rendine.

The tails, which are six to eight inches long, are deep fried and covered in house barbecue sauce. Rendine said you eat them like ribs or chicken wings.

Originally an everyday menu item, the pig tails are now only served as a Tuesday night special. But Rendine added that people come in and ask for the dish all the time.

Amish pig tails

Bareburger, on the other hand, offers a familiar way of eating meat made from an unusual animal.

In addition to the typical beef and turkey burgers, diners can order ostrich, wild boar, elk and bison on their buns.

Manager Bobby Kumar said customers like the ostrich because it tastes similar to beef, but is lower in cholesterol and 98 percent lean. He added that they enjoy bison and elk, which are also red meats, for the same reasons.

Wild boar is leaner than beef, but has a similar texture to ground pork.

“We’ve become very well known for our exotic meat,” Kumar said. “After some people try it, some people fall in love with it.”

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

 

At Ornella, you are home


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

“Now this is the real fusilli, not like the spiral stuff… this is so much better…” smiled Giuseppe Viterale as he proudly placed the masterpiece on the white linen before me. His deep, melodic voice is as thick and comforting as the Bolognese sauce blanketing the long coils of fresh pasta. Half the joy of dining at Ornella, after all, is having Giuseppe serve you.

As I devour the savory meat sauce and thin, hollow al dente noodles, he points out one of the greatest joys of eating homemade pasta. Since he never uses a machine, each noodle is slightly different in thickness, shape, and texture, making each bite uniquely enjoyable. The fusilli Bolognese is a dish from his hometown that his mother-in-law has made by hand probably thousands of times over the course of her life.

Each and every dish comes with a family story, and there are well over 100 different dishes available in the restaurant any given day of the week, though only a select few are listed on the menu.This is the man who was famous for his contraband supply of casu marzu (worm cheese) as well as his seasonal offering of the legendary sanguinaccio—a chocolate pudding made with fresh pig’s blood, which Giuseppe also uses as a cannoli filling.

Giuseppe’s menu is undeniably the most diverse Italian menu anywhere around. Will he make you chicken parmigiana? Sure. But only because he likes to please each customer, not because it’s a favorite authentic dish.

The signature dish at Ornella is undeniably the imbustata. Italian for “envelope,” the imbustata is a sheet of fresh pasta piled with chicken, veal, mascarpone cheese, spinach, mozzarella and mushrooms, all folded into a tight parcel that is baked in a creamy tomato sauce with a dusting of Parmigiano cheese, like a gigantic ravioli or edge-sealed lasagna. Also, be sure to order the duck meatballs, stuffed with herbs and cheese, and glazed with an orange-brandy reduction.

If you truly want to enjoy what makes this restaurant so incredibly special, simply ask Giuseppe about the dishes inspired by his home in Salerno, Italy. From his father, who ran a flour mill, Giuseppe learned the nuances of making different flours. One of the most exquisite dishes he serves is the pizzoccheri alla fontina, featuring long flat noodles made from buckwheat flour. The hearty pasta ribbons are tossed with tender braised cabbage, golden potatoes, fontina cheese and a touch of garlic and olive oil. The dish is simultaneously light, hearty, decadent, and a playscape of textures and flavors.

The whole restaurant is a tribute to his family and history.

Painted like a quaint Italian street scene, the walls hold signs for various piazzas named after each of his four sons, who also sometimes serve in the restaurant—which is named after his beautiful and effervescent wife, Ornella. In fact, do not be surprised when on your second visit Giuseppe remembers your name. He quite literally treats everyone like family.

Ornella Trattoria Italiana
29-17 23rd Avenue; 1/2 block from Ditmars N/Q station
718-777-9477
Open daily from noon to 10 p.m.

 -BY BRADLEY HAWKS

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

Nothing shady about this lady


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

Opening a new restaurant in New York City can pose countless unforeseen bumps in the road, but the worst is when someone mistakes your new restaurant for an actual speed bump. Last week, a hit-and-run motorist did precisely that, driving his truck directly into The Shady Lady, which recently opened on the corner of 30th Avenue and 35th Street. Fortunately no one was injured, and the team worked vigorously to reopen last weekend, just in time to introduce brunch service.

There is only one television screen, above the bar, that plays silent films. The concept is intended to foster socializing and interaction amongst friends, with a global menu focused on plates meant for sharing.

From the kitchen, co-owner and executive chef Billy Pappas is cranking out some rather impressive creations so delectable you just might not want to share at all.

Juicy, tender, pork tenderloin medallions are encrusted in mushrooms and dijon, then baked in a flaky pastry crust. Served two to an order, these wellingtons are a definite must-try.  Meatloaf meatballs are served on a pedestal of chive whipped potatoes with a tangy tomato demi-glace.  Foie gras terrine (made in-house by Pappas) is paired with cashew butter and port wine gelee for a sophisticated PB&J. Rock salt crystals cut the richness—and spread on toasted buttery brioche, it’s a remarkable blend of textures, flavors and colors.

Mini sandwiches for sharing include sliders and pork belly taquitos, as well as lobster tacos with lime aioli, sriracha, and pico de gallo.  Mac and cheese carbonara and lobster pot pie are highlights, as well as oysters on the half shell.

The star of weekend brunch (which drew an enthusiastic crowd its premiere weekend) are Pappas’s homemade buttermilk biscuits, which are the quintessential rendering of the comfort classic. The flaky, moist and buttery pastry pillows are topped with a hearty sausage and bacon country gravy.  Or try the fried chicken version, the poultry and biscuits blanketed with cheddar cheese, a zigzag of bacon, and then a slathering of the pork gravy.   The “Back to Bed Mac & Cheese” has an actual egg baked into the bubbling crust, and eclipses almost all of the other dishes in decadence and the guilty grins it forces at each forkful.  Jack and Coke French toast is caramelized in a crispy coating and syrup of the popular beverage, served with mixed berries.

At dinner, it would be well worth your while to place an order for the classic chocolate soufflé with vanilla bean ice cream and fresh strawberries about 20 minutes before you are ready to devour it, as this favorite always demands a little extra love in the oven.

While the sharing plates are unparalleled, the cocktail list is worth a strong look, with concoctions like a basil julep or a ginger habanero margarita. Check out the whiskey carafes available, as well as a notable beer selection (including Single Cut on draft, of course). There is even a weekday shady hour from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. where guests can enjoy unlimited half price well drinks, beer, and wine with any food purchase.

The Shady Lady
34-19 30th Avenue, Astoria
718-440-9081
Open daily for dinner at 6 p.m.
Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

 -BY BRADLEY HAWKS

 

 MORE DINING PROFILES

Salt & Fat: Raising the bar


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Bradley Hawks

BY BRADLEY HAWKS

It arrives at the table resembling a toddler’s attempt at a sandcastle.  A simple prodding with a fork and a cautious bite later, however, yields sensations—textures and flavors simultaneously familiar and exotic.  Those grey pieces of down are actually shaved Hudson Valley foie gras, rendered light and feathery, cloaking a heaping mound of cinnamon-dusted mandarin orange segments that explode like sweet, tangy bursts of fresh orange juice.  The blend of citrus and foie gras is reminiscent of a luxurious creamsicle, with a playful crunch of paper-thin stained-glass tiles of bacon brittle.  It is one of the ugliest, most profoundly delicious dishes I have ever tasted.  And it is a quintessential introduction to the technique and delicious whimsy of Daniel Yi, owner and chef of Salt & Fat in Sunnyside.

A native of Sunnyside, Yi grew up in a Korean-American household, which shaped his definition of New American cuisine.

“Eating spaghetti or a slice of pizza with kimchi was one of my favorites as a child,” explained the chef.  “Because of eating American and Korean food growing up, it is deeply reflected in my cooking.”

Salt & Fat’s fluffy BLT bao buns look like Pac-Man savoring a power-up of tender pork belly medallions with shredded lettuce, ruby tomatoes, and spicy mayo.

Though Asian influences are undeniably sprinkled throughout the menu, the New American cuisine borrows influences from around the world.  So we asked, “What is the inspiration for the name?”

“Even though salt and fat are associated with unhealthy eating, they aren’t necessarily bad or unhealthy ingredients. They are actually the backbone of anything and everything that is tasty and delicious,” said Yi.

Dinner begins with a complimentary brown paper sack of warm popcorn popped in bacon fat, an addictive replacement for traditional bread service.  The one-page menu is comprised of 17 plates intended for sharing, all ranging from $8 to $23 and accompanied by a carefully-edited selection of wine and craft beer.

Must-tries include the oxtail terrine, which looks more like a sinful chocolate brownie, falling apart at the touch and melting on the palate, served with a caramelized onion puree and roasted mushrooms.  Who knew pigs’ feet could evoke such a gleeful response?   Here, the pork trotters are tenderly prepared in a torchon, then breaded like a gargantuan crab-cake, and topped with a slow-cooked egg that acts as a rich gravy.  The sweet & sour duck breast with buttered lychee is gorgeous in every way.  A salad of succulent lobster claw and tail meat over frisee and citrus segments is jazzed up with an ancho vinaigrette.

Absolutely plan for dessert, like the rice crispie treat with marshmallow ice cream, or a seasonal selection of ice creams and sorbets, which presently include Thai iced tea and miso apple.  No room for a sweet ending?  The check comes with mini Korean cran-yogurt probiotics, the perfect icing on the cake of an eclectic, excellent meal.

Salt & Fat
41-16 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside
718-433-3702
Tuesday – Saturday 6 to 11 p.m.
Sunday 5 to 10 p.m.
Closed Monday

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

The Thirsty Koala brings Queensland to Queens


| editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Bradley Hawks

BY BRADLEY HAWKS

The Thirsty Koala, Astoria’s new Australian restaurant, brings Queensland to Queens. Adorned with indigenous artifacts like boomerangs and didgeridoo (a long woodwind instrument) among vibrantly lit blonde onyx and pinewood-planked walls, the new menu reads like a comestible glossary of Australian terms, from jaffles and crosti to kakadu, kumara, and even kangaroo burgers with “the lot.”

Filling a longtime gap in the Queens culinary landscape, the eatery is the collaboration of three Astoria mates, Katherine Fuchs (former FDNY chief turned executive chef), Alex Styponias (Astoria-born mixologist, raised in Greece), and Christine Chellos (Aussie native and financial advisor).

According to Fuchs, the menu features “dishes that are familiar, but with an Australian flare” which she describes as “international…often British…with some Asian influences,” including herb-crusted lamb “lollies” over caramelized pumpkin; ginger beer-battered fish ‘n chips; boomerang tacos with grilled prawns (using Nixtamal tortillas); jaffles (Australian pressed sandwiches); and a variety of “crostis” (crostini).

A must-try crosti is the kakadu, an open-faced toasted sandwich with sweet and tangy kakadu plums, prosciutto, kalamata olive tapenade, shallots, house-made goat cheese, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. Burgers come as sliders or 8oz. monolithic sandwiches, available in either beef or kangaroo meat. Order it with “the lot” and it will arrive stacked with goat cheese, beet slaw, grilled pineapple, bacon, and a fried egg.

The hard-to-find marsupial meat is also available as a steak with pomegranate reduction over kumara mash.

The wild game meat is extremely lean, resembling a cross between bison and venison. The steak is best described as a sweeter filet mignon. On the flip side, there are several vegan and gluten-free options including an “Earth Chili,” loaded with edamame and black beans in a thick, piquant tomato stew. It has enough spice to warm you but not set you running to the fire hydrant.

Desserts include a lamington, with strawberry jam sandwiched between slices of yellow sponge cake, rolled in a dark chocolate ganache, then dusted with fine coconut shavings. The sweets menu is rounded out with palova, a Tim-Tam tiramisu, and extensive array of “flat whites” (Aussie espresso with microfoam) and other java featuring Intelligentsia Coffee.

Presently BYOB, the liquor license has been approved on its way. Coopers and Fosters will be served on tap, headlining a beverage program of Australian and New Zealand wines and craft beer. Aussie-inspired cocktails created by Styponias will include a Hooly Dooly caipirinha and the Gabba—a gin and honey blend named after the Brisbane Cricket Ground. Even without a bar, The Thirsty Koala has already proven itself a bloody fantastic addition to Ditmars Boulevard.

Thirsty Koala
35-12 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria
(718) 626-5430
Tue-Thu 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Fri & Sat 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Sun 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

 

MORE DINING REVIEWS

Authentic Japanese noodles and more in Astoria


| editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Bradley Hawks

BY BRADLEY HAWKS

When HinoMaru first opened on Ditmars just about a year ago, it caught the eye of noodle enthusiasts everywhere, especially considering the lack of slurpable options in western Queens.

Featuring a menu focused around eight regional ramen preparations, Chef Koji Miyamoto’s soup broth simmers with pork bones for nearly 12 hours.

The 60-seat space is comfortably open, with two large rooms separated by a long noodle bar, where guests can watch the chef at work in the large open kitchen. HinoMaru means “circle of the sun,” a nod to the Japanese flag.  Masks of Tengu (the Japanese spirit of mischief) adorn the walls.

The cooks can regularly be seen preparing housemade gyoza (pork dumplings), or a rendition of takoyaki that surpasses any other version in the city—even the popular East Village stands. Takoyaki, a common street food, are like piping hot seafood-stuffed zeppoles topped with bonito flakes that dance in the steam.

The menu now includes all of the original regional soups and dishes, along with the addition of a chalkboard of daily specials and a second printed page of nearly 20 Japanese tapas-style plates and seasonal noodle and rice bowl additions–even a few sushi rolls–almost all under $10.

A recurring favorite is the uni ramen, like a seafood carbonara, with the noodles tossed in a very light parmesan cream, with a generous heap of sea urchin on top, along with fish cakes and nori shreds. During the summer, look for the cold seafood ramen, topped with crumbled bits of yuzu jelly that melt into broth as they are stirred in.

The softshell crab nikuman (steamed buns) with scallions, cucumber straws, and sriracha mayo are exceptional. The crunch of the breaded shellfish tucked into that soft (even the slightest fingerprint dimples the bun) Pac Man-shaped rice flour bread is fantastic. The steamed nikuman are also available stuffed with spicy crab, tender pork belly, and even tempura shrimp.

The menu also includes some less traditional and surprising dishes, like browned, scored links of kurobuta sausage, served on a bed of satsuma potato puree, a golden sweet potato whose rich color symbolizes wealth. Or perhaps try a basket of fried pig ears, heavily seasoned and playfully crunchy.

Expected sweet endings include chewy, frosty orbs of various flavored mochi, but a delicious surprise reveals a silky coconut panna cotta, topped either with strawberries or diced mango, like a heavenly creme parfait.

The service is impeccable. The prices are extremely affordable. The space is pristine, and surprisingly spacious, including a sweet graffiti garden patio in back. HinoMaru recently attained a beer and wine license, but also serves tea and traditional Japanese sodas. The chorus of staff chiming “domo arigato gozaimashita” as guests exit the restaurant may be unfamiliar to the neighborhood, but it’s music to the ears, and a siren song to return soon and often.

HinoMaru Ramen
33-18 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria
718-777-0228
Sunday – Thursday noon -10:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday noon -11 p.m.

 

 

MORE DINING REVIEWS

 

 

 

Basil Brick Oven: The Picasso of pizza


| editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Bradley Hawks

BY BRADLEY HAWKS

“The pizza was invented in Naples, and then we developed it in the north,” grins Daniele Barbos, executive chef and pizza maker at Basil Brick Oven Pizza, who first began cooking in 1986 for the Alpini, Italy’s elite brigade of mountain soldiers.

The wood-fired oven is kept blazing between 850 and 900˚F, the ingredients are imported from Italy and the mozzarella is made fresh daily (60 pounds of it a day, made each morning by Barbos himself).

“Neapolitan pies cook in 90 seconds,” explains the chef, “and can get really soggy.” Using a special recipe that yields a stronger, less doughy crust over two days of preparation, and by baking each pie for four minutes, his Northern Italian pies are able to properly hold a variety of gourmet ingredients while still boasting a crisp, thin crust. Basil offers a mind-blowing selection of over 60 varieties, including speck & brie, gorgonzola and pear, or asparagus and egg. One of the most popular—the pizzucca— is topped with a baked pumpkin- walnut puree with salty pancetta and creamy fior di latte.

A recent expansion of the dining room naturally led to a menu expansion, which now boasts several full entrees inspired by Barbos’s home region of Piemonte. A radicchio and speck risotto in parmesan crisped bowl is velvety, bold, and uniquely delicious. Green lasagna frequents as a special, layered with spinach noodles, basil pesto, sliced potatoes and blankets of golden-crisped melted cheeses. Salmon is crowned with eggplant, pancetta, and breadcrumbs. Calamari rings arrive laced with ribbons of fried zucchini and carrots with a side of piquant fra diavolo dipping sauce.

The pana cotta, polka-dotted with vanilla bean specks, is exceptional, skirted in juicy fresh sliced pear with dollops of whipped cream and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. Barbos handdips each ladyfinger in espresso and whips the sweet mascarpone filling just before lunch service each day, resulting in a rather addictive, gargantuan slice of tiramisu.

When Basil held its grand reopening last fall, patrons enjoyed a newlyexpanded dining room that nearly quadrupled the original seating capacity, along with a front cafe featuring a gelato counter. But that was merely a small taste of what the team at Basil Brick Oven aspired to offer.

As the summer months approach, a glimpse out the back window reveals a rapidly developing three-tiered outdoor dining area, complete with fire pit, scheduled to open later this summer. The new dining room is an immaculate parlor of dark wood and hanging lanterns, ideal for a rustic pie or a full Italian meal, complete with wine and espresso.

Basil Brick Oven Pizza
28-17 Astoria Boulevard, Astoria
718-204-1205
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday
Closed 4-5 p.m. daily
Closed Wednesdays

 

MORE DINING REVIEWS

A new generation of Greek at Thymari


| editorial@queenscourier.com

IMG_8596

BY BRADLEY HAWKS

A love affair with Astoria’s food scene would be incomplete without an appreciation of the neighborhood’s rich Greek tradition. Bringing that tradition into a contemporary light comes Thymari.

The menu at Thymari, which means thyme, is peppered with the standard glossary of Greek cuisine: dolmades, feta, saganaki, spanakopita, and kalamata. But the chef carefully applies subtle nuances to the seemingly familiar recipes.

The shrimp saganaki appears as a clay dish lavishly arranged with jumbo prawns in a robust vine-ripened tomato sauce with sequins of scallion and snowdrops of feta. The hint of anise comes from masticha, an oil drawn from raisin-like berries found in Northern Greece.

An entirely different saganaki—this time as expected, with cheese—encrusts a delicately mild Arahova feta with sesame seeds, which is pan-fried, then ribboned with a sash of wild berry compote.

Owner Konstantinos Batalamas designed the restaurant with one of his childhood friends from Greece. It spans from a sunny open-front café and bar to an expansive, dramatically lit dining room which also doubles as a photography gallery.

A few flavorsome newcomers pop up, like a bouquet of mussels in a golden broth of krokos (Greek saffron). The Thalassinon orzo is studded with thyme-kissed medallions of shrimp and mussels in a rich tomato reduction. A Greek spin on chicken pot pie, kotopita, layers flaky country-style phyllo stuffed with spiced chicken and peppers in a creamy béchamel. Whole branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) is butterflied, seared, and served on a pedestal of roasted new potatoes, arugula, cherry tomatoes, capers, shallots, and olives shimmering in olive oil and lemon zest.

Weekend brunch is heightened with a gorgeous strapatsada omelet, as well as traditional Greek sweet bread nuanced into French toast, served with a whipped dollop of homemade chocolate hazelnut Greek yogurt. Try a bellini with pressed sour cherry juice for a refreshing brunch bubbly.

Desserts shine with a stemless martini glass of Greek custard made from homemade, strained, and whipped yogurt draped with a luxurious walnut amaretto caramel.  And the classic baklava is practically unrivaled, even in this neighborhood.

Thymari also boasts the largest selection of Greek wines anywhere in the area, with over fifty bottles, as well as a playful mix of cocktails, including a baklava martini.

Acoustic pop and rock on Thursdays and Fridays turns the scene into a destination. Check the website for a schedule of upcoming artists.

 

THYMARI
32-07 34th Ave, Astoria
718- 204-2880
Hours:
Tuesday-Friday, 5 p.m. to close
Saturday, Sunday, 11 a.m. to close

 

MORE DINING REVIEWS

Grown-up grilled cheese and gourmet brews at The Queens Kickshaw


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

BY BRADLEY HAWKS

According to Merriam-Webster, a kickshaw is “a fancy dish; delicacy; trinket; gewgaw.”  While the name The Queens Kickshaw undeniably denotes its location, the double entendre also implies a collection of exquisite and rare morsels fit for royalty, which this café-restaurant certainly is.

With one of the most carefully-edited food and beverage menus in Astoria, a visit to The Queens Kickshaw is an expedition into unique, fantastic tastes in both food and drink, all in a rustic and warm epicurean gallery.

In a renovation that extended well over a year, husband-wife owners Ben Sandler and Jennifer Lim partnered with EcoSystems in Brooklyn to design a uniquely green space, with refurbished, recycled, and reclaimed materials mostly collected by the Sandler and Lim, achieving the intimacy of a downtown coffee shop, but with surprisingly grandiose spaciousness and reclaimed wooden tables of every size and shape imaginable to accommodate individuals to couples or large groups. An always-friendly staff fires orders to the kitchen via mounted iPads.

The menu showcases a collaboration between the husband-wife team and executive chef Youngsun Lee, whose credits include substantial kitchen time at the original Momofuku Noodle Bar, CraftBar, Blue Fin, and even two of his own endeavors, the Kimchi Taco Truck, as well as Persimmon in the East Village.

Grown-up grilled cheese headlines, including a toasted gouda sandwich with black bean hummus, guava jam, and pickled jalapenos. The Great Hill Blue arrives on cranberry walnut bread with sweet prune jam and slivers of fresh pear. Small plates range from mini knishes filled with celery root and blue cheese to a bowl of pepper-studded queso laced with asiago and Scottish ale served with crispy Nixtamal tortilla chips.

Highlights from the larger plates include a wild mushroom shepherds pie with red wine braised root vegetables capped with a whipped cauliflower mash with golden toasted peaks—or savor a generous helping of the gruyere-cheddar-smoked-mozzarella macaroni and cheese, which is glistening with ribbons of French beans and caramelized onions adorned with a diagonal sash of creamy tomato sauce. But be sure to save room for dessert, perhaps a scoop of luxuriously decadent fontina cheesecake, or a mug of mocha which is cocoa-fied with actual crumbles of Mast Bros. chocolate bars.

Chef Lee’s sophisticated whimsy really shines on the brunch menu, with dishes like the umami explosion of Japanese-style cold poached eggs with miso butter and mustard seed ‘caviar’, or the scotch eggs, presented here as quail eggs wrapped in sweet potato puree, dredged in crispy panko shell, over a garlic-leek confit.

The roster of beverages is equally enticing, from cone-capped pour-over coffees to brews from Coffee Lab Roasters in Tarrytown, percolated in the Marzocco Strada machine.  Those vinegars that magically transformed the blueberries for the salad now become drinking cordials spritzed up with soda water—an age-old classic known as a shrub.  The drinks are spirited as well, with rare craft ales (some commissioned exclusively for TQK), nearly 30 alongside wine and mead (also known as honey wine).  In honor of NYC Beer Week, check their website or Facebook page for special events this week, including chef’s tasting menus and the tapping of specialty beers like a cask-conditioned collaboration between Peekskill Brewery and Coffee Lab Roasters on March 2 at 5 p.m.

The Queens Kickshaw
40-17 Broadway, Astoria
718-777-0913

Hours:
Mon-Fri, 7:30 a.m.-1 a.m.
Sat-Sun, 9 a.m.-1 a.m.; brunch weekends/holidays 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Vegetarian, free wi-fi

 

MORE DINING REVIEWS

Where to eat and shop in Forest Hills, Kew Gardens and Rego Park


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THECOURIER/Photos By Angy Altamirano

WHERE TO EAT

Dallas BBQ
Rego Park Center
718-592-9000
For the past 15 years, Dallas BBQ has offered the best BBQ ribs, chicken and steak in New York City. Coming together with other dining shops at the Rego Park Center, Dallas BBQ is there to offer customers a dining experience amongst friends after a long day of shopping. Dallas BBQ also offers seafood, salads, burgers and catering specials.

Panera Bread
Providing baked bread fresh out of the over every day, Panera has expanded quickly across North America into Queens. The Panera Bread at Rego Park Center offers comfortable seating for its guests and two menus to choose from. Their bakery menu includes fresh baked breads, bagels, pastries and sweets while their café menu offers sandwiches, soups, hand-tossed salads and beverages.

BAGELS for YOU
113-29 Queens Boulevard
718-793-9200

Serving customers in Kew Gardens for the past eight years, BAGELS for YOU offers more than just a plain toasted bagel with cream cheese. This corner bagel shop provides breakfast from open to close, cold-cut sandwiches and a buffet-salad bar. BAGELS for YOU also offers a variety of baked goods, hot coffee or hot chocolate and a menu full of sandwiches.

Keuka Kafe Wine Bar
112-04 Queens Boulevard
718-880-1478
New to the neighborhood, Keuka Kafe offers its customers a menu composed of dishes created from local produce and with the freshest ingredients. This wine bar is named after Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes region, best know for its wineries and cheese. Bringing in wine from that region and the rest of the world, Keuka Kafe’s menu also includes combinations of meats and cheeses, appetizers, salads, and cool and warm sandwiches.

Tango Argentine Steak House
111-08 Queens Boulevard
718-520-6488
This family-owned restaurant has been providing the Kew Gardens community with more than 20 years of fine Argentine dining and entertainment. Specializing in steak and traditional Argentine dishes, Tango takes its customers’ taste buds to a trip to South America. On the weekends, Tango puts on a show with live music for its diners, bringing the sounds and traditional dances of Argentina to Queens. This restaurant provides all in one, a spot to dine and enjoy the beauties of a Latin culture.

Bareburger
71-49 Austin Street
718-275-2273
Started in an underground Brooklyn kitchen in 2002, Bareburger was created to bring organic, all-natural and locally sourced ingredients to guests of the music venue, Sputnik. Nine years later, the idea has become a micro-chain of organic burger restaurants with ten locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. Along with “mouth-watering organic burgers and sandwiches, Bareburger also offers fresh salads, shakes, organic beer and wine, and snacks you can share amongst a group of friends.

OKO
71-44 Austin Street
718-268-6010
Starting off with only offering frozen yogurt, Oko has now updated its menu to include traditional Korean dishes such as bibimbop, u-dong and soon dubu jigae. Besides being one of the only Korean dining spots in Forest Hills, Oko also provides its customers with natural fresh juices, sandwiches, wraps and salads.

Ripe Juice Bar & Grill
70-13 Austin Street
718-261-2881
Opened in 2008 by Peter Kambitsis and Elias Kalogiros, Ripe was created to make sure customers could find a dining spot with healthy food and juices. What started with the intention of being just a juice bar for the “gym-goer customers,” Ripe began to bring in every day customers who, along with eating fresh and healthy, also loved the taste of the food. Without missing out on the flavor, Ripe offers made-to-order wraps, salads, lean burgers, grilled entrees and squeezed-to order juices and smoothies.

Queens Center Mall
90-15 Queens Boulevard
718-592-3900

After a long day of shopping, Queens Center Mall offers its guests fast food dining options such as McDonald’s, Noodle House and Nathan’s. For the customers looking to enjoy a sit in lunch or dinner, Applebee’s is located on the first floor from opening to close hours of the mall. Along with full meals, Queens Center Mall feeds the sweet tooth of all its shoppers with ice cream from Baskin Robbins or signature cupcakes at Crumbs Bake Shop.

WHERE TO SHOP

Rego Park Center
61-35 Junction Boulevard
With 26 thriving shops located on the lower and upper levels of the Rego Park Shopping Center, customers have a variety of options to choose from when it comes to shopping and dining. Opened in March 2010, this shopping center started off with only a handful of the shops currently available to the public. Home to large clothing stores like Century 21, Kohl’s and TJ Maxx, the Rego Park Center is becoming a second home to customers not far away at Queens Center Mall.

Century 21
Rego Park Center
718-699-2121
The “legendary” New York city retailers that first opened its doors in downtown Manhattan in 1961 has brought its incredibly low prices in top designer fashions to Queens. While keeping customers in the latest trends in fashion from clothes to shoes, Century 21 also offers household appliances, handbags, luggage, cosmetics, and trends and toys for children. This department store offers top designer names for unbeatable and affordable prices.

Aldi Food Market
Rego Park Center

718-699-5230
With its unique ways of keeping carts in a appropriate location, bagging and checking out, Aldi Food Market looks to help customers “save up to 50% over supermarket prices.” This food market provides its customers with dairy, frozen, pantry, bakery, snacks and sweets, beverages and household products.

Ulta Beauty Store
Rego Park Center
718-699-9004

This beauty retailer was founded in 1990 looking to better satisfy how women wanted to shop for beauty products. ULTA provides one-stop shopping for prestige salon products and salon services in a convenient location. ULTA offers over 20,000 beauty products including cosmetics, fragrances, haircare, skincare, body products and salon styling tools.

Queens Center Mall
90-15 Queens Boulevard 
718-592-3900
Queens Center Mall is home to around 150 shops providing men and women clothing, accessories, footwear, skincare and household appliances. Stores range from offering a large collection of children’s shoes in Stride Rite to young women’s accessories at Claire’s. In addition to the individual diverse shops, Queens Center Mall also offers the sales of both large department stores, Macy’s and JCPenney.

Dana’s Flower Shop
118-01 Queens Boulevard
718-263-3558
This family-owned and operated flower shop has served the community with providing fresh cut floral arrangements and gifts. Dana’s offers festive bouquets, arrangements or plants for the holiday season, birthdays, anniversaries and another other special occasions. This corner flower shops delivers the orders upon request to Forest Hills or even nationwide.

Le Pitou Pets II
113-24 Queens Boulevard
718-896-3333
Opening its first location in 2009 in Forest Hills, Le Pitou now provides its animal care in salon spa and boarding to animal residents of Kew Gardens. This animal-friendly boutique offers a wide variety of treats, clothing, accessories and services for the four-legged friends of the community. Along with these items, Le Pitou II is also a daycare for pets.

Austin Street
The merchants of Forest Hills have the motto “We are large enough to serve you and small enough to know.” Offering over 200 one of a kind shops including upscale shopping and fine dining, Austin Street depicts the surrounding vibrant and diverse private community of Forest Hills. Shoppers who walk down Austin Street can find designers clothes for women, men and children and satisfy their taste buds with dishes from Cuba, Japan and other parts of the world. Austin Street even offers marketplaces and bakeries, such as Martha’s Bakery, where shoppers can satisfy their sweet tooth.

Magic Corsets & Lingerie
70-10 Austin Street
718-261-6999
Providing “everything that a woman needs” for the past 17 years, Magic Corset specializes in fitting women into corsets for everyday use and special occasions, including weddings and prom. Magic Corsets also offers a wide variety of bras, girdles, nightgowns, lingerie and swimsuits for every shape and size, making sure each customer receives full service attention as they leave with their perfect fit.

OZ Boutique
70-09 Austin Street
718-544-1087
For 20 years, OZ Boutique has been providing women with the latest trends in evening and glamour wear and everything needed to accessorize. Offering prom, evening, sweet sixteen and cocktail gowns, OZ Boutique offers items coming from overseas unique to their shop and buyers. No beautiful dress would be complete without the perfect handbag, jewelry and shoes and this boutique makes sure their customers leave with the whole dazzling package.

 

 

 

 

 

 

East Ocean Palace: A feast for the senses in Forest Hills


| editorial@queenscourier.com

IMG_6700

BY BRADLEY HAWKS

East Ocean Palace in Forest Hills offers fantastically authentic Cantonese dim sum on the weekends, when Flushing and Chinatown seem too far away.  An interactive (if not sometimes athletic) dining experience from the moment you step foot in the entryway, stacked aquariums in the waiting area create a compartmentalized mosaic of oceanic life, allowing guests to window-shop the fresh seafood before even taking a seat or perusing a menu.

Like a frenzied bumper car buffet, a nimble team of cart attendants wheel through the dining room as if selling on commission, proudly displaying what appears like hundreds of dishes, from steamed dumpling baskets with every filling imaginable, to classic small plates like chicken feet and tripe, and gorgeous desserts like water chestnut New Year’s cake and chewy sesame balls stuffed with warm almond paste.  Whole live prawns are scooped from their tanks to order and flash-fried, served in a generous heap.  Plates range from $2-$5 and feed three to four people each, allowing a party of four to six to fill up for around $20 per person (or less). Orders are tracked on a tally sheet kept at the table, and totaled upon completion of the meal.

Language can be a bit of a barrier, but servers harbor a very sincere desire to satisfy guests.  It might even be advantageous to arrive with a small idea of possibilities to consider requesting by name.  Ha Gow are sweet shrimp in a crystal dumpling wrapper that arrive in steamed baskets, as do many of the other dishes.  Be sure to ask for the lo mai gai (“low my guy”), which at initial glance appears to be a small brick wrapped in a lotus leaf.  Peeling back the wrapping, however, reveals fragrant steamed sticky rice filled with mushroom, chicken, pork, and shrimp.

The entire experience is nothing shy of a culinary Christmas, which is part of the fun.  Shiny, curious, steaming dishes attract the eye like shimmering presents under the tree.  You can shake, smell, and conjecture away, but until you actually dig in there is no way of predicting what gift of flavor lies within—though practically everything that passes by proves rewarding.  That heart-shaped white gelatin tastes like mangos and cream.  That dish that looks like an éclair wrapped in pasta actually tastes like a pastry puff lasagna, only in a rich and savory brown gravy studded with sesame seeds.

Large plates may also be ordered from the menu, which is full of photographs that assist in ordering.  Consider these few critical tips to know before arriving, and the rest will come naturally as your experience unfolds: Grab a post-it from the hostess upon entering, as seating is called by handwritten numbers, with wait times rarely exceeding twenty minutes. Specify a tea order the moment a server appears, or receive the basic chrysanthemum tea traditionally served at the kids’ table. If the entire staff appears curiously apathetic to your gratitude and unable to say “you’re welcome”, be aware that “thank you” is gestured (rather than spoken) by gently tapping a single finger on the table, two fingers if married—a motion that mimics bowing, without disrupting the meal to actually do so.

 

East Ocean Palace
113-09 Queens Boulevard, Forest Hills
718-268-1668
Hours: Sat & Sun 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Mon – Fri 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Menu with photos and translations available here.